Timna and Amalek: The Rejects
Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )
The nation of Amalek is well-known as the epitome of evil and enmity towards the Jewish people. The Torah tells us that the Amalekites attacked us whilst were in the desert, and consequently we are commanded to totally wipe out this wicked people. Far less is known about the father of this nation, the individual named Amalek who taught his descendants to fight the Jewish people with all their might. How did this man develop such an intense hatred for people who genetically were his cousins?!
It seems that two incidents involving the parents of Amalek contributed in generating such a virulent loathing. In Vayishlach the Torah writes about the descendants of Esau. It tells us about Esau's son Eliphaz and his many immoral relationships: "And Timna was a concubine to Eliphaz and Eliphaz gave birth to Amalek." (1) The Gemara in Sanhedrin informs us of the background to this fateful occurrence. "Timna was a Princess, but she wanted to convert. She came to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [to convert] but they would not accept her. She then became a concubine to Eliphaz the son of Esau. She said that it was better to be a maidservant to this nation rather than to be a powerful woman in another nation. [As a result] Amalek, who would cause Israel great pain, was born from her... " (2) It was this rejection of Timna that resulted in her turning to Eliphaz and giving birth to the ultimate source of evil, Amalek.
Rav Zev Leff discusses how this factor played a significant role in generating Amalek's seemingly irrational hatred of the Jewish nation. He explains that when a person is rejected by someone else he is very likely to develop a great dislike for that person. This is because the feeling of rejection is very painful and it can cause one to feel insignificant and worthless. One of the ways (but certainly not a healthy method) of removing this feeling of rejection is by delegitimizing the source of that rejection. By viewing the 'rejecter' as being unimportant himself, the person can then eliminate his own feelings of worthlessness because the cause of this feeling is of no value himself!
Thus, Amalek obviously knew of the rejection that his mother endured by the Patriarchs; the way that he could counter this rejection was by rejecting the Patriarchs and what they stood for themselves; by showing that the descendants of the Patriarchs were insignificant Amalek could assert his own feelings of self-importance. Of course, there are far more healthy ways of asserting one's self-importance in the face of rejection, such as recognizing one's own intrinsic self-worth as being created in the Image of God, Perhaps it would have been possible for Amalek to take this healthy approach if not for the second defining incident:
The Medrash tells us: "[Amalek] asked [his father Eliphaz], 'Father, who will inherit This World and the World to Come?' 'The Children of Israel,' replied [Eliphaz]. 'Go out and dig wells for them and fix roads for them. If you do so, your share will be with the lowly among them and you will enter the World to Come.' When he heard this he became the enemy and pursuer of Israel.' (3)
Had Amalek listened to his father's advice of subjugating himself to the Jewish people then he could have attained the World to Come. Instead, Eliphaz' words had exactly the opposite effect and caused him to hate the Jewish people and strive to destroy them. It would seem that Eliphaz' point that Amalek would have to humble himself exacerbated the feelings of rejection that he already had as a result of Timna's rejection by the Patriarchs. The two factors combined to cause him to feel that the only way he could assert his superiority would be to totally eliminate the Jewish nation with total disregard to the miracles that would accompany them in their history. This explains why the nation of Amalek attacked the Jewish people in the desert despite the fact that they had experienced open Divine Providence and it was highly dangerous to attack them. Indeed the Amalekites were greatly weakened in this battle but that did nothing to stem their intense desire to wipe out the Jewish people.
We have seen how the cause of Amalek's deep hatred for the Jewish people is not based on deep philosophical differences; rather its root is the fact that the rejection of Timna and the advice of Eliphaz created a bitter person who, instead of improving himself, sought to destroy who he perceived to be the cause of his insignificance. On a far lesser scale, each person faces the challenge that Amalek failed so badly. We all experience occasions when we feel rejected by someone. We learn from here that we should not waste our time and energy in trying to avenge that person. Rather, we should develop our own feelings of self-worth and recognize that we are intrinsically valuable as God's creations.
1. Vayishlach, 36:12.
2. Sanhedrin, 99b.
3. Tana D'bei Eliyahu, Ch.24, Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach, 268.